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Brussels, 11 May 2004

Connecting Europe at high speed: Commission takes stock of national broadband strategies

The number of people and businesses accessing the Internet at high speed has grown by more than 80% in the year to January 2004, says a new European Commission report. Broadband take-up is now faster in the EU than in the US with several Member States among the best performers around the globe. The EU15 Member States all have national broadband strategies in place and the new Member States will table theirs before the end of 2004. All Member States agree that progress should be market driven. Growth has been fastest in those countries where competition particularly from alternative networks has allowed a choice of providers and driven down prices. However, there remains a role for public authorities whenever markets do not deliver the necessary investment. National broadband strategies therefore aim at increasing coverage of under-served areas and steps to stimulate demand. The Report concludes that national approaches must be kept under review and updated during 2005, both to take account of new ways of delivering high speed access and to learn from good practice in other countries.

"Wider, faster access to the Internet is essential to deliver the full promise of the Information Society," said Erkki Liikanen, European Commissioner for the Information Society and Enterprise Policy. "This is not about systems and technology, but about providing solutions for citizens, businesses and government. It can help to increase choice and boost productivity. We have seen impressive rates of growth, particularly in some of the larger Member States such as France and Italy. But the momentum needs to be maintained, particularly by ensuring competitive markets and the right regulatory conditions for investment."

Member States agreed as part of the Commission's e-Europe 2005 Action Plan to support the widespread availability of broadband access to the Internet by 2005. In order to help this process they confirmed that they would table national broadband strategies by the end of 2004. The Commission's report to be adopted tomorrow examines those strategies, establishes the common ground between them and highlights possible next steps when they come up for review in 2005.

Broadband communications permits large amounts of information to be carried almost instantaneously. It can allow a family doctor to transfer large patient files and x-rays to a hospital specialist, people to access the Internet, e-mail or databases while on the move, and schoolchildren and students in different schools and different countries to be linked up by video.

The strong growth seen over the last eighteen months has been largely market-driven. It means that around 6% of people are using broadband connections to access the Internet.

However, the fastest growth is concentrated in cities, and while growth has been strong, some of our competitors such as South Korea and Canada have been doing even better. The speed with which broadband has been taken up has also been strongly affected by the amount of competition in different Member States particularly from other networks such as cable TV networks, and by the price of services. The level of broadband competition is improving, but this serves to highlight the importance of the quick transposition and consistent implementation of the new regulatory framework for electronic communications in all Member States.

The National Strategies show how many Member States are exploring how to help to get broadband into remote and rural areas, which are often underserved, including through the use of EU structural funds. A further step is for public authorities to "aggregate demand" by ensuring that schools, hospitals and public libraries in a particular area have high speed access. This can help to make the business case for investment in those areas and once broadband access is provided, it can also be used by local businesses and citizens. In addition, public authorities are also stimulating demand for broadband by putting more of their own services online - from making tax returns and searching local databases to using broadband in education or healthcare.

The Commission will continue monitoring progress in the implementation of national broadband strategies in the framework of eEurope 2005.

The communication can be found at:

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